Covid-19: One in 10 visitors to Ryman Healthcare nursing homes return a positive test upon entry

Ryman Healthcare found around 10 per cent of its visitors to Auckland alone tested positive when rapid antigen testing was introduced before entry last week.

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Ryman Healthcare found around 10 per cent of its visitors to Auckland alone tested positive when rapid antigen testing was introduced before entry last week.

One in 10 visitors to Ryman Healthcare aged care facilities has tested positive for Covid-19 since the group introduced testing for all visitors last week.

The unexpected positivity rate was a key reason the retirement village closed to outsiders during Omicron’s peak, a spokesperson said.

The Aged Care Association has advised its members that business as usual should remain as long as possible, but admitted lockdowns will be implemented as soon as cases occur in facilities or widespread outbreaks occur.

Ryman Healthcare general affairs director David King said it was at a ‘critical point’ and the group had closed its care centers and serviced apartments to all visitors except for visits compassionate or palliative and end-of-life care.

“…it is clear that Omicron is now widespread in the community, and we want to do everything we can to protect residents during this critical phase.”

Ryman Healthcare introduced rapid antigen tests (RATs) for all visitors last week and “immediately started detecting a surprising number of positive tests” – around 10% at its Auckland facilities alone.

“That was a factor in our decision to close.”

It offered additional activities and ways for residents to stay connected with family, but visitation was important and would resume as soon as possible, King said.

NZ Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said members have been urged to keep facilities open to visitors for as long as it is safe.

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NZ Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said members have been urged to keep facilities open to visitors for as long as it is safe.

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said exposure events were expected over the next four to six weeks and some nursing homes were expected to close.

“It’s going to be difficult, but hopefully only for short periods.”

Lessons have been learned after residents’ mental health and wellbeing suffered during Auckland’s four-month lockdown, and visitors and testing staff gave care homes ‘defence artillery’ to maintain family visits for as long as possible.

As part of phase three, nursing homes that are members of Ryman Healthcare (93% of the sector representing more than 37,000 aged care beds) had been informed that symptomatic or asymptomatic visitors in contact with the household should not be allowed to enter.

Full lockdowns could be possible if there were widespread outbreaks in nursing homes.

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It has been a difficult year for older Kiwis, many of whom have been isolated due to Covid-19 restrictions. (First published on December 24, 2021)

Residents were at risk of becoming ill with Covid-19 due to underlying conditions, but all residents except those with genuine medical reasons were triple vaccinated, and staff were required to to be.

“It’s the difference between now and where we were even a year ago, let alone two years ago,” Wallace said.

Any facility forced to close could use other means to keep residents in touch with loved ones, such as using technology.

“Staff will do their best to ensure residents are always connected to their loved ones.”

In January, 499 older Australians died of Covid-19, and there were active cases in more than 1,200 care homes (47%) at the end of January.

Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton is encouraging aged care facilities to find ways to keep residents in touch with loved ones if visitor access is restricted.

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Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton is encouraging aged care facilities to find ways to keep residents in touch with loved ones if visitor access is restricted.

The workforce has been reduced by 15-50% due to Covid-19 infections, with a quarter of shifts unfilled, on average, according to a report by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration.

Wallace felt that Aotearoa was better prepared, but its biggest threat was a lack of staff, mainly nurses, as the area was already short of 1,000 aged care nurses.

Nursing homes were closing some of their beds – 400 in the aged care sector – due to a lack of staff.

“All the pandemic has done is make it worse and make a bad situation worse.”

Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton said it was always a big concern when elderly residents were left with limited access to loved ones.

“That was one of the main complaints we heard during other lockdowns.”

But he felt nursing homes were doing a great job of mitigating this, mainly through the use of RATs.

While older people in the community could make their own choices about the risk of seeing their families, collective rights to safety in aged care facilities outweighed the rights of individual residents to make that choice.

He encouraged facilities to take additional steps to provide alternative ways for residents to connect.

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